Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Disaster looms for Indonesia's rich Wallacea region

Jakarta Post (Indonesia): Long before climate change had become the hot issue it is today, British biogeographer Alfred Russel Wallace had foreseen the correlation between deforestation and environmental disaster. In his book Island Life, published in 1881, he said deforestation in Sri Lanka and India "would adversely affect climate in those countries and lead to their eventual impoverishment due to soil erosion".

Scientists attending the International Conference on Alfred Russel Wallace and Wallacea in the South Sulawesi capital city, Makassar, agreed that the same applied to Wallacea -- a transitional region that sits between the Asian and Australian continental shelves. The Wallacea region encompasses the islands of Nusa Tenggara (Lombok, Komodo, Flores and Sumba), Timor, Sulawesi, Halmahera and most of Maluku province.

The figures show that Wallace's prediction was on target. A comprehensive conservation assessment of Sulawesi by The Nature Conservancy revealed that as of 2004, only about 20 percent of the lowland forests were in good condition, and less than 3 percent were in excellent old growth condition. The assessment showed that for specialized habitat types such as alluvial forests, mangroves and wetlands, generally less than 5 percent remained in good condition.

…Of Wallacea's total area of 347,000 square kilometers, only about 20,000 square kilometers is protected. Wallacea is home to 82 threatened and six critically endangered species of terrestrial vertebrates. Daniel Murdiyarso, senior scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) based in Bogor, West Java, said that in addition to deforestation, Sulawesi had experienced changes in its land use with parts of the forest turned into oil palm plantations.

…Scientists agreed that Wallacea was important to the world and therefore immediate conservation actions should be taken to ensure its sustainability. Pieter Baas from Leiden University, the Netherlands, said the conservation steps should include forest conservation, sustainable logging, creation of ecotourism and the involvement of local people…..

Alfred Russel Wallace in 1912

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